Acoustics question
  • Claire H
    Posts: 358
    For those whose choirs sing from a loft but with some micing: where is your mixing board located? I am researching different ways this is handled and what the pros and cons are.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,937
    I don't know why you would need mics in a choir loft... the acoustics are (supposed to be) designed with natural acoustical amplification. Can you explain WHY you would need electronic amplification?
  • Nisi
    Posts: 80
    As opposed as I am to live music coming through little speaker boxes at Mass, there are some churches whose acoustical properties are so poor for music that microphones actually become necessary for sung music to be heard in the middle of the nave. Claire, if you are installing electronic sound reinforcement equipment in your choir loft, be SURE to consult a real expert, not someone to merely *says* he or she knows what they're doing. Contact the fanciest churches in your town - especially Protestant (because they tend to be better about these things) to find out what companies they've used. The goal is to make the singing sound as natural as possible, and not just louder.
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  • Claire, we have our mixer in the choir loft.

    In response to Francis: there are several churches in my area that have good enough acoustics that singing will carry throughout the church. However, both the choir and soloists still use mics when singing with the organ. Isn't that an acceptable situation to use microphones?
  • Claire H
    Posts: 358
    @Nisi, we have a few high-quality condenser mics that we already use in the choir area (currently front right of church) and these would be repurposed. 100% agree on the goal of "as natural as possible" for any amplification of choral sound.

    Our church building will be undergoing a series of renovations in phases during the coming years. Consulting a real acoustician is high on my priority list.

    Related: if anyone has moved into/built a loft, any tips on how to handle a/c in a cost effective way? (We are in Phoenix, so a/c more important than heating).
    Thanked by 1Nisi
  • I am in the choir loft and when seated at the organ console, face the rose window on the back wall. I am also fortunate enough that the church is not very big at all and almost entirely marble.

    When listening to recordings, the biggest issue is diction. I have spent a great deal of time trying to improve that, especially now, when only cantors are allowed to sing and we are encouraged to use music that is unfamiliar to discourage the congregation from joining.

    I completely agree that the sound should be as natural as possible. If anything, microphones can help improve diction and clarity. In such large churches where there is so much reverb, microphones definitely help with that.

    Seeking the help of a good sound technician is definitely important as they can help you to achieve balance with the space your in, the organ and any other issues that may affect the quality, such as capacity.

    As a side note, cantors should try recording themselves from various points in the church to get an idea of the “microphone presence” so that there is no overwhelming when they sing. Sadly, I’ve been to so many churches and the “keyboardist” is playing hymns a la lounge music and the cantor is having a go with the microphone. The result is a lot of distortion and sometimes me walking right back out.
  • Our mixer is kept on the organ console in the choir loft.

    Francis, some churches were built without wall to wall carpeting, only to have carpet installed later on as well as those sound absorbing panels. Sometimes your satb choir that Sunday has one soprano, one alto, four tenors, and six basses and you need to give the soprano and alto a little boost. Sometimes only one Bass can sing the really low note at the end, sometimes you want to make the organ louder, and sometimes the choir director needs to make an announcement before Mass, but he’s in the choir loft and it’s Latin Mass so the people you know...
  • Earl_GreyEarl_Grey
    Posts: 836
    Assuming you do need to use microphones in your situation, consult with an expert who actually understands and appreciates choral singing and church acoustics and that will strive for simply boosting the presence as minimally and as naturally as possible. A Concert Hall or Movie Theatre is a total different venue. I one had an audio tech bid on a church PA and he said how much he hated church acoustics. He didn't get the job.

    Ideally you would want an independent system in the loft so the speakers are facing the same direction as the choir. If you mic your choir in the loft and send that to speakers in the front of the church, it will never sound natural as the sound is coming from different sources.

    I would personally prefer a small analogue mixing board in the loft so that I could control when the mics are on and off. Digital mixers are too fussy and cumbersome, IMO. Again your purpose for setting up the board in the loft is so that you can control when the mics are on or off. Perhaps you'll want multiple channels (choir, cantor, etc.) if you have a Mass with cantor and no choir, you'll want to mute the choir mics and turn on the cantor mic and visa versa. A board that has channels mutes would be even better so you don't have to mess with the level sliders or knobs. You may want to lock the mixer in a cabinet so no one else messes with the levels either. The professional sound engineer will have preset the levels during installation. You can mark these levels on the board. You don't want to be messing with different levels or EQ. Once it's set, it should be left alone except for toggling channels on and off.

    The only advantage to locating the board somewhere else, that I can think of, is if you were having someone else run the sound board live during the performance. This might be helpful for recording purposes or for a praise band where individual singers or instruments are mic'd in different channels, but not typically for a choir setup.
  • Ha! Just be thankful that you are not in the Houston parish that not only has wall-to-wall carpeting but padded walls! (Take note that this is not purple!)
  • m_r_taylor
    Posts: 156
    @M. Jackson Osborn at our little church we just raised the money to put tile on the floor where there is currently carpet - after a 1970s renovation. Can't wait to hear the difference once it is installed.
  • Bravo!!!
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,655
    not only has wall-to-wall carpeting but padded walls!


    I once worked for a parish that relocated an organ from a much larger building. Rather than having someone revoice it or hiring an organist who could be sensitive to this fact, they just CARPETED THE WALLS. Nothing says sacred space quite like beige shag carpeting on the walls.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • Carol
    Posts: 603
    At least if the walls are padded it won't hurt as much when you beat your head against the wall.
  • WGS
    Posts: 248
    MikeAkronOrganist:
    "If anything, microphones can help improve diction and clarity."

    That is not my experience. Microphones and speaker systems can make a sound louder and perhaps screen out some unwanted sounds and emphasize some other sounds.

    However, in general, amplified poor diction just comes out louder poor diction.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,598
    That has been my experience, too. Bad singing just comes across as louder, not better, with microphones.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • It is important to remember that unified and clearly distinct vowel sounds are just as important, if not more so, to the ability for listeners to comprehend the text as the ever-emphasized consonants. Microphones may amplify the latter but will not help if the former is deficient.
  • Has anyone noticed that entertainers cannot sing without holding a microphone up to their mouths? Microphones may make up for an inability to project, but sloppy diction, poor delivery, and a mediocre voice will only be unmasked. I would not stoop to using a microphone under any circumstances, not even in a church with padded walls.
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  • WGS
    Posts: 248
    I think that "holding a microphone" is more a matter of appearing to be doing something with that hand. It's like the social tradition of holding a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other. (not my style)
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,937
    But, would you, could you
    in an insane asylum with padded walls?

    I could not, would not in a house,
    I could not, would not with a mouse.
    I do not like the mic and amp
    I do not like them sam i am.
  • It depends on what your goal is.

    If you just want to use the mixer to turn the mics on and off, then right beside you is fine.

    If you want to make a better sound for the congregation, then your mixing desk needs to be where the congregation is, alongside a trained person who knows how to make a good mix. Because in the loft, you have NO IDEA what things actually sound like for the congregation. Your sound person should know they are free to turn all the mics off, if it sounds better that way. But equally, there will be times when some amplification helps.

    If you are mixing to be use in a recording or live-stream, then it depends on where your feed is is taken from. If it's from in the congregation, then see para 2 above. But if it's taken from the mixer (so you don't get the congregation's noise), then put it someplace where your sound engineer can hear the mix properly through their headphones.
  • It is better when the person down there away from the choir finds a setting that works for everything that is sung, then lock up the board and walk away.

    That was historically how microphones were set in the mid-1900's.

    Each priest learned where to stand, the controls were never, ever adhusted.
  • Our choir director is also a sound engineer and thus knows how to use mics effectively to amplify the all over sound and not in the way many people think. It is possible to use mics without it sounding bad.
  • @WGS point well made and point taken. I am definitely quite fortunate to have the good acoustics where I am without the need for any amplification. There is an Episcopal church nearby which seems to have the choir miced but perhaps they keep the levels low, I’m not sure. The speakers don’t seem to be overbearing at all, but just right and quite clear.
  • Nisi
    Posts: 80
    "A microphone is like a weapon: you have to know how to use it." -- T. Burns
  • We all know that if churches were built to have good acoustics expensive PA systems would not be needed. On the other hand, Phillip Johnson's St Basil's Chapel at UST has the finest acoustical properties of any sacred space in Houston. One can almost hear a pin drop from one end to the other. One can hear quite distinctly private conversation from any point to the farthest one throughout the chapel. The floors are paved with marble throughout. But, wouldn't you know it! - some codgers complained that they couldn't hear, so they installed a PA system anyway.

    It is well known that many architects despise what we would call good acoustics and are seemingly in league with the PA industry, which never conceived of a room that didn't need their products. And if that room didn't need their systems then something was wrong with it. They despise the slightest reverberation. The last thing that they want is a room in which their services and their idea of 'acoustics' are not required.

    Then, there are people who just feel that a room without wall to wall carpeting is not complete. They have a wicked fetish for carpeting. A very prominent and wealthy Houston parish with a large and high cathedralesque church which is a fine example of historically informed modern architecture of the sixties, has a sanctuary that is probably forty or so feet square. It is paved with black marble, which several years ago was, believe it or not, covered with wall to wall carpeting. There are those who do prefer the dread deadness of a room which absorbs any and all sound - except that coming from a speaker's microphone. As if all this were not enough, wall to wall carpeting, no matter its cost or 'quality', is hideous - but it seems that our human race would not be complete without those who think that ugly is beautiful.

    Thanked by 1Paul F. Ford